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The Scrivener: Where Do My Eggs Come From?

…Our major supermarket chains are now so large and so dominant that they dictate the prices they will pay. If necessary, they go overseas for their products…

Brian Barratt points out that a 'home brand' label on tin or packet does not mean what you probably think it means.

To read more of Brian’s thoughtful columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit his engrossing Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

Local suppliers and small businesses are having problems here in Australia. A recent investigative programme on ABC Television revealed the dominance and frightening strength of the two largest supermarket chains in this country. They control about 70% of grocery sales in Australia. Not only have smaller shops been put out of business, but manufacturers and suppliers are also closing down. Much of this is due to the growth of 'home brands'.

Oh yes, it might be fun when you first discover that:

- a 'home brand' marmalade is made in Denmark;

- a 'home brand' tin of peas comes from Belgium;

- an instant meal in a box comes from the USA;

- sachets of a Café Latte coffee blend are made in Gemany;

- other sachets of coffee blend are made in South Korea;

- Australian sugar-lumps come from the Philippines;

- a tin of pineapple slices from Thailand is cheaper than the same thing produced in Australia, which has a huge pineapple industry;

- a tin of green asparagus spears is labelled Product of Peru;
- your favourite savoury biscuits which were made for years in Australia are now made in China so you buy the nearest substitutes, which are made in New Zealand; and so on.

Fun, did I say? Wrong.

On the TV programme, we heard a manufacturer of ice cream and dairy desserts explain that he had to buy his milk from the local supermarket. Their price to him was lower than that charged by the milk supply corporation. A bottle-store owner had to pay his supplier wholesale prices that were higher than retail prices in the local supermarket. A vegetable grower was closing his business down, after three generations, because the supermarkets refused to pay him a reasonable price for his produce.

Our major supermarket chains are now so large and so dominant that they dictate the prices they will pay. If necessary, they go overseas for their products. That's what seems to have happened with, for instance, tinned peas from Belgium and pineapple from Thailand. Australian sugar is sent to the Philippines to be turned into sugar lumps (cubes) and packed. Consumers, especially those of us who rely on the Aged Pension, might benefit from lower prices. Shareholders will be kept happy. But what of the people who are being put out of work and the local businesses which have to close down?

It is not, of course, a question that can be answered simply. There are additional factors. Read the small print again:

- A tin of creamed corn is Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients.

- A box of coffee sachets is Made in Germany from local and imported ingredients.

- A tin of baked beans is Made in New Zealand from local and imported ingredients.

The ingredients of the creamed corn are sweet corn (58%), water, sugar, thickener (1412) and salt. Assuming that the water is a local ingredient, where do the others come from? What percentage of the product actually originates in Australia? Does it matter? How much does it matter?

Labelling laws change from time to time, in an effort to ensure that manufacturers are telling consumers exactly where a product is grown, made, or produced. 'Made in...' is not the same as 'Produced in...', and I've no idea where 'Product of...' fits in. Now we have the additional 'Organic' and 'No GM ingredients' and Heaven only knows what else.

I've just eaten my breakfast — toast, Vegemite and scrambled egg. The bread was made in Melbourne from local and imported ingredients. The margarine was made in Australia from local and imported ingredients including non genetically modified canola. The Vegemite, a distinctively Australian food which food-lovers in the USA compare with sump oil, is made in Australia by an American-owned company. The eggs might have been laid by a Rhode Island Red chook. Good gracious! I wonder if. . . ?

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2008


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